The Justice Department has filed a statement of interest siding with two conservative groups who have sued the University of California at Berkeley, alleging administrators created logistical and other hurdles that forced the cancellation or modification of planned events with right-leaning speakers.
In a court filing, Justice Department lawyers said the groups had properly pleaded that Berkeley violated their First Amendment rights, and the government was getting involved in the case because it “has a significant interest in the vigilant protection of constitutional freedoms in institutions of higher learning.”
The Justice Department said it took no position on whether those suing would prove their case at trial, but they urged the court not to dismiss the case at this early stage.
Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said Thursday on CNN that the department was getting involved in the case because officials want “to protect against universities — the government really, if you’re a public university — deciding which speech is favored, which ideas are too controversial to even allow to be heard on a college campus.”Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been outspoken about free speech on college campuses, and in advance of his department’s court filing, Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand penned a column for Fox News criticizing the practices at some colleges.
“Free speech is under attack at college campuses across the country,” Brand wrote. “The problem is not limited to a few colleges barring radical speakers to avoid a riot. Universities large and small, public and private, are restricting students’ and professors’ speech or enabling others to silence speech with which they disagree.”
The controversy at Berkeley erupted in early 2017, when violent protests and security fears forced the cancellation of events featuring controversial right-wing speakers, including Milo Yiannopoulos, David Horowitz and Ann Coulter. The controversy drew national attention to the college, known for its liberal-leaning student body and its role in the free-speech movement.